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For Boilers, success starts with defense

Painter, players ready to get back to in-your-face play.

Purdue wants to rock somebody’s basketball world. The Boilers want to get in your head when they’re not getting in your face.

In other words, they want to do what they didn’t do last year, when defense buckled along with the won-loss record.

So coach Matt Painter upgraded the talented and pushed the do-extra button. And now he once again has that ultimate motivational tool:

The bench.

“It is a luxury,” he says. “You have to have it in today’s culture. A lot of things have changed in basketball, but that’s still the best motivator. You’re sitting and watching while somebody else plays.”

Last year that was a big issue. Painter lacked the depth to bench guys. Now he has it, but because of improvement maturity and experience, he hopes not to need it as much.

“Our guys have matured. They’ve worked on their games. They’ve made strides in that area. It’s not as significant now.”

Still, the bench is there when needed.

“It really helps you with your job when you have depth because you can talk less,” Painter says. “When you have to keep giving the same speech, it’s tough. As a coach you have to put things into action yourself, and play somebody different. That helps get the point across. Most of the time it works.

“You can talk to guys. You can show film. But when you play somebody who is able to help better than another guy, it sends a loud message.”

Purdue under Painter, and Gene Keady before him, has been known for rugged defense. The goal was to defend the opposing point guard for 94 feet, then push out the offense beyond where it could function effectively. Players such as Chris Kramer, the former Huntington North standout and Big Ten defensive player of the year, set a standard that propelled the Boilers to six straight NCAA tourney appearance.

That was missing during last year’s 16-18 showing, in part because Painter was unable to recruit for the loss of versatile guard Kelsey Barlow, who was dismissed from the team for off-court issues.

“With the loss of Barlow we didn’t replace him with somebody who could pressure the ball and also be a guy who be a defensive stopper,” Painter says. “That really hurt us. We needed to add somebody to the fray to help us along those lines.”

The addition has come with freshman Bryson Scott, a former Northrop standout, and fifth-year senior transfer Sterling Carter. They join improved sophomore Ronnie Johnson.

“Bryson has a chance to be an excellent defender,” Painter says. “All three can really pressure the ball. We have the ability with that depth to extend the defense. We have a more aggressive but under-control front of our defense. Most important for us because we pressure.”

Pressure also will come from sophomore swingman Rapheal Davis, the former South Side standout, senior transfer forward Errick Peck, senior guard Terone Johnson and freshman guard Kendall Stephens.

“And I think (freshman swingman) Basil Smotherman has all the tools to be a good defensive player,” Painter says.

The paint will be defended by sophomore center A.J. Hammons, and forwards Jay Simpson, Errick Peck and Travis Carroll.

The bottom line question – can the defense regain its offense-shredding form?

“That’s one of those trick questions. Right now we’re competing against each other. When you play other people, that’s when you see. The improvement really lies in the production.”

Purdue has 2 1/2 weeks before its first exhibition (Oct. 30) against the University of Indianapolis.

It doesn’t open its season until Nov. 8 against Northern Kentucky.

“I’m excited about this team,” Painter says. “I’m excited about our personnel. We have to continue to grow together.”

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For more on Purdue athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio on Twitter at pdiprimio.

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